Marketing Advice for Aspiring Vintners from the Hudson Valley Wine Goddess

When people select wine, especially wine connoisseurs, they may say it’s because of the aroma, the color, opacity, viscosity and of course, taste. But there’s one point they likely won’t admit: There has to be something compelling to convince them to take it off the shelf and uncork it.

That something, explains Debbie Gioquindo, the Hudson Valley Wine Goddess and certified wine specialist, is a relationship – especially for small, up-and-coming vintners. She revealed her best advice to build the kind of relationships that will make your wine fly off the shelves.

Take advantage of social media.

“You have to communicate with people. But for too many wineries, and businesses in general, that communication is only one-way,” she explains. “You can put an ad on the Super Bowl, but will that bring people in? Maybe. Maybe not. You’re going to spend millions and millions of dollars. If you don’t have a relationship with those people, they’ll just pick apart your ad.”

She points out that, with the advent of social media, communication is now two-way, so she advises pinpointing your target market, then having fun – lots of fun –using social media to communicate with them.

“I like to think of the internet as a big cocktail party, and you’re networking with people, moving from group to group, creating relationships,” she explains. “If you don’t create these relationships, whether it’s with bloggers or consumers, you’re not going to have anyone to buy the product.”

Tell a story and have fun doing it.

Debbie is an expert at targeting markets by creating relationships, and having fun in the process. She and her friend, Keryl Pesce, founded Happy Bitch Wines in 2011. Keryl announced on Twitter she wanted to create the brand. “I tweeted back ‘Why don’t you make it locally and source the grapes from New York?’” recalls Debbie, who knew Keryl from their local chamber of commerce. They met for coffee and walked out partners. Immediately, Debbie created a Facebook page and Twitter account for the brand, and they quickly gained a strong following, eager for the product, even before the first bottle was corked.

Debbie credits much of this success to the fact that their customers can relate to the story behind Happy Bitch. It’s based on a book by Keryl of the same name, which documents a challenging time in her life that too many women can relate to.

“She walked in on her husband, on the phone, telling another woman he loved her,” Debbie reveals. “The book is about how she fell to the bottom of barrel, sleeping on friends’ couches, and feeling sorry for herself until she pulled herself together. It happens to a lot of women. But, at some point, you have to stop feeling sorry for yourself, put your big-girl panties on and go after what you want. Whether that’s in your career or your life.”

The target market for Happy Bitch Wine is, of course, women who celebrate life regardless of what it hands them. “We’re focused on women who want happiness and friendship. A woman who loves her friends and loves creating memories. Our target market isn’t the same as Chappellet Winery, for instance,” Debbie explains. Hence the tagline “Pairs well with girlfriends and great memories.”

Involve your target market.

Their target market helped Debbie and Keryl determine what they would produce. The first product was a sparkling rose. They created dry, semi-dry and sweet versions, took them to the Hudson Valley Wine Festival, and asked the visitors to vote on their favorite to determine which wine they would focus their efforts on.

“We had to kick people out of our space each day of the festival because, by law, we couldn’t serve after the festival was closed,” laughs Debbie. “All the other buildings were empty except around our table. We had people fighting to vote for their favorite wine. To this day, people ask me which wine we ended up producing.”

The semi-dry was the winner.

“The key is getting your target market involved,” she continues. “If it’s a serious wine brand, you want to be serious, but if it’s fun, like ours, you can be light-hearted. You just have to reflect your mission and what you’re all about.”

Create a wine bottle label your target market can relate to.

“At our tastings we noticed people saying, ‘I’m looking for a sweet wine,’ or ‘I don’t like a sweet wine,’” she explains. “So we actually put a sweetness scale on the bottle so people would know what they’re getting. Make your wine bottle label clear because if it’s too busy and they’re not sure what they’re getting, people will overlook it.”

She also advises keeping it simple when it comes to application, unless you have the time and money to invest in labels that must be manually affixed.

Start small.

It’s easiest to build relationships with your target market by limiting distribution.

“It takes time to meet people and grow from there,” she advises. “Don’t try to start everywhere. Focus small and build on that.”

Seek out the help of experienced vintners.

“They’re full of information and experience,” she says. “And they’d like to share it with you. Talk to people who are like Keryl and me. Ask them what worked and what didn’t work. We’re here to help each other out. That’s important.”

If you’re interested in finding out more about Debbie’s experience, check out the Happy Bitch Wines or the Hudson Valley Wine Goddess websites. And if you want expert advice on selecting and designing the optimal wine bottle labels, contact Meyers Direct at 1-800-241-9730 or